"What do you want?" he demanded thickly, as the dapper little man came up and extended his hand. Simmy was beaming, as if he suddenly had found a long lost friend and comrade. George took no notice of the friendly hand. He was staring hard, almost savagely at the other's face. Simmy was surprised to find that his cheeks, though sunken and haggard, were cleanly shaved, and his general appearance far from unprepossessing. In the light from a near-by window, the face was lowering but not inflamed; the eyes were heavy and tired-looking—but not bloodshot.
"I thought I recognised you," said Simmy glibly.
"Much obliged," said George, without the semblance of a smile.
Simmy hesitated. Then he laid his hand on George's arm. "See here, George, this will not do. I think I know why you are here, and—it won't do, old chap."
"If you were anybody else, Dodge, I'd beat your head off," said George slowly, as if amazed that he had not already done so. "Better go away, Simmy, and let me alone. I'm all right. I'm not doing any harm, am I, standing out here?"
"What do you gain by standing here in the cold and—"
"Never mind what I gain. That's my affair," said George, his voice shaking in spite of its forced gruffness.
Simmy was undaunted. "Have you been drinking to-night?"
"None of your damned business. What do you mean by—"
"I am your friend, George," broke in Simmy earnestly. "I can see now that you've had a drink or two, and you—"
"I'm as sober as you are!"
"More so, I fear. I've had champagne. You—"
"I am not drunk all of the time, you know," snarled George.
"Well, I'm glad to hear it," said Simmy cheerfully.
"I hate the stuff,—hate it worse than anything on earth except being sober. Good night, Simmy," he broke off abruptly.
"That dance in there won't be over before three o'clock," said Simmy shrewdly. "You're in for a long wait, my lad."
George groaned. "Good Lord, is it—is it a dance? The papers said it was a dinner for Lord and Lady—"
"Better come along with me, George," interrupted Simmy quietly. "I'm going down to Anne's. She has sent for me. It's the end, I fancy. That's where you ought to be to-night, Tresslyn. She needs you. Come—"
Young Tresslyn drew back, a look of horror in his eyes. "Not if I know myself," he muttered. "You'll never get me inside that house again. Why,—why, it's more than I could stand, Simmy. That old man tried—but, never mind. I can't talk about it. There's one thing sure, though: I wouldn't go near him again for all the money in New York,—not I."
"I sha'n't insist, of course. But I do insist on your getting away from here. You are not to annoy Lutie. She's had trouble enough and you ought to be man enough to let her alone."
George stared at him as if he had not heard aright. "Annoy her? What the devil are you talking about?"
"You know what I'm talking about. Oh, don't glare at me like that. I'm not afraid of you, big as you are. I'm trying to put sense into your head, that's all, and you'll thank me for it later on, too."
"Why, I—I wouldn't annoy her for all the world, Simmy," said George, jerkily. "What do you take me for? What kind of a—"
"Then, why are you here?" demanded Simmy "It looks bad, George. If it isn't Lutie, who is it you're after?"
The other appeared to be dazed. "I'm not after any one," he mumbled. Suddenly he gripped Simmy by the shoulders and bent a white, scowling face down to the little man's level. "My God, Simmy, I—I can't help it. That's all there is to it. I just want to see her—just want to look at her. Can't you understand? But of course you can't. You couldn't know what it means to love a girl as I love her. It isn't in you. Annoy her? I'd cut my heart out first. What business is it of yours if I choose to stand out here all night just for a glimpse of her in all her happiness, all her triumph, all that she's got because she deserves it? Oh, I'm sober enough, so don't think it's that. Now, you let me alone. Get out of this, Simmy. I know what I'm doing and I don't want any advice from you. She won't know I'm over here when she comes out of that place, and what she doesn't know isn't going to bother her. She doesn't know that I sneak around like this to get a look at her whenever it's possible, and I don't want her to know it. It would worry her. It might—frighten her, Simmy, and God knows I wouldn't harm her by word or deed for anything on earth. Only she wouldn't understand. D'you see?" He shook Simmy as a dog would have shaken a rat, not in anger but to emphasise his seriousness.
"By Jove, George,—I'd like to believe that of you," chattered Simmy.
"Well, you can believe it. I'm not ashamed to confess what I'm doing. You may call me a baby, a fool, a crank or whatever you like,—I don't care. I've just got to see her, and this is the only way. Do you think I'd spoil things for her, now that she's made good? Think I'd butt in and queer it all? I'm no good, I'm a rotter, and I'm going to the devil as fast as I know how, Simmy. That's my affair, too. But I'm not mean enough to begrudge her the happiness she's found in spite of all us damned Tresslyns. Now, run along, Simmy, and don't worry about anything happening to her,—at least, so far as I'm concerned. She'll probably have her work cut out defending herself against some of her fine gentlemen, some of the respectable rotters in there. But she'll manage all right. She's the right sort, and she's had her lesson already. She won't be fooled again."
Simmy's amazement had given way to concern. "Upon my word, George, I'm sorry for you. I had no idea that you felt as you do. It's too darned bad. I wish it could have been different with you two."
"It could have been, as I've said before, if I'd had the back-bone of a caterpillar."
"If you still love her as deeply as all this, why—"
"Love her? Why, if she were to come out here this instant and smile on me, Simmy, I'd—I'd—God, I don't know what I'd do!" He drooped his head dejectedly, and Simmy saw that he was shaking.
"It's too bad," said Simmy again, blinking. For a long time the two of them stood there, side by side, looking at the bright doorway across the street. Simmy was thinking hard. "See here, old fellow," he said at last, profoundly moved, "why don't you buck up and try to make something of yourself? It isn't too late. Do something that will make her proud of you. Do—"
"Proud of me, eh?" sneered George. "The only thing I could do would be to jump into the river with my hands tied. She'd be proud of me for that."
"Nonsense. Now listen to me. You don't want her to know that you've been put in jail, do you?"
"What am I doing that would get me into jail?"
"Loitering. Loafing suspiciously. Drinking. A lot of things, my boy. They'll nab you if you hang around here till three o'clock. You saw her go in, didn't you?"
"Yes. She—she happened to turn her face this way when she got to the top of the steps. Saying something to the people she was with. God, I—she's the loveliest thing in—" He stopped short, and put his hand to his eyes.
Simmy's grip tightened on George's arm, and then for five minutes he argued almost desperately with the younger man. In the end, Tresslyn agreed to go home. He would not go to Anne's.
"And you'll not touch another drop to-night?" said Dodge, as they crossed over to the line of taxi-cabs.
George halted. "Say, what's on your mind, Simmy? Are you afraid I'll go off my nut and create a scene,—perhaps mop up the sidewalk with some one like Percy Wintermill or—well, any one of those nuts in there? That the idea you've got? Well, let me set you right, my boy. If I ever do anything like that it will not be with Lutie as the excuse. I'll not drag her name into it. Mind you, I'm not saying I'll never smash some one's head, but—"
"I didn't mean that, at all," said Simmy.
"And you needn't preach temperance to me," went on George. "I know that liquor isn't good for me. I hate the stuff, as a matter of fact. I know what it does to a man who has been an athlete. It gets him quicker than it gets any one else. But the liquor makes me forget that I'm no good. It makes me think I'm the biggest, bravest and best man in the world, and God knows I'm not. When I get enough of the stuff inside of me, I imagine that I'm good enough for Lutie. It's the only joy I have, this thinking that I'm as decent as anybody, and the only time I think I'm decent is when I'm so damned drunk that I don't know anything at all. Tell him to take me to Meikelham's hotel. Good night. You're all right, Simmy."
"To Meikelham's? I want you to go home, George."
"Well, that's home for me at present. Rotten place, believe me, but it's the best I can get for a dollar a day," grated George.
"I thought you were living with your mother?"
"No. Kicked out. That was six weeks ago. Couldn't stand seeing me around. I don't blame her, either. But that's none of your business, Simmy, so don't say another word."
"It's pretty rough, that's all."
"On me—or her?"
"Both of you," said Simmy sharply. "I say, come over and see me to-morrow afternoon, George,—at three o'clock. Sober, if you don't mind. I've got something to say to you—"
"No use, Simmy," sighed George.
"You are fond of Anne, aren't you?"
"Certainly. What's that got to do with it?"
"She may need you soon. You must be ready, that's all. See what I mean?"
"Moral support, eh?" scoffed George.
"You are her brother."
"Right you are," said the other soberly. "I'll be on hand, Simmy, if I'm needed. Tell Anne, will you? I'll stick it out for a few days if it will help her."
"There is a lot of good in you, George," said Simmy, engagingly. "I don't mind telling you that Lutie says the same thing about you. She has said to me more than once that—"
"Oh, don't lie to me!" snarled young Tresslyn, but Simmy did not fail to note the quickening of interest in his sullen eyes.
"More than once," he went on, following up the advantage, "she has expressed the opinion that with half a chance you would have been more than half a man."
"'Gad," said George, wonderingly, "I—I can almost believe you now. That's just the way she would have put it. God knows, Simmy, you are not smart enough to have said it out of your own head. She really thinks that, does she?"
"We'll talk it over to-morrow," said the other, quite well pleased with himself. Young Tresslyn was breathing heavily, as if his great lungs had expanded beyond their normal capacity. "Move along now."
"If I thought—" began George, but Simmy had slammed the door and was directing the chauffeur where to take his fare.
Half an hour later, Mrs. Fenwick's tables were deserted and the dance was on. Simmy Dodge, awaiting the moment of dispersion, lost no time in seeking Lutie. He had delayed his departure for Anne's home, and had been chafing through a long half-hour in the lounge downstairs. She was dancing with Percy Wintermill.
"Hello, Dodge," said that young man, halting abruptly and somewhat aggressively when Simmy, without apology, clutched his arm as they swung by; "thought you'd gone. What d'you come back for?"
"I haven't gone, so I couldn't come back," answered Simmy easily. "I want a word or two with Mrs. Tresslyn, old boy, so beat it."
"Oh, I say, you've got a lot of cheek—"
"Come along, Mrs. Tresslyn; don't mind Percy. This is important." With Lutie at his side, he made his way through the crowd about the door and led her, wondering and not a little disturbed, into one of the ante-rooms, where he found a couple of chairs.
She listened to his account of the meeting with her former husband, her eyes fixed steadily on his homely little face. There was alarm at first in those merry eyes of hers, but his first words were reassuring. He convinced her that George was not bent on any act of violence, nor did he intend to annoy or distress her by a public encounter.
"As a matter of fact," he said, "he's gone off to bed, and I am quite certain that he will not change his mind. I waited here to tell you about him, Lutie, because I felt you ought to be prepared in case he does come back and you happen to see him skulking around in—"
"This isn't news to me, Simmy," she said seriously. "A half dozen times in the past two weeks I have caught sight of him, always in some convenient spot where he could watch me without much prospect of being seen. He seems to possess an uncanny knowledge of my comings and goings. I never see him in the daytime. I felt sure that he would be outside this place to-night, so when I came in I made it a point to look up and down the street,—casually, of course. There was a man across the street. I couldn't be sure, but I thought it was George. It has been getting on my nerves, Simmy." Her hand shook slightly, but what he had taken for alarm was gone from her eyes. Instead they were shining brightly, and her lips remained parted after she had finished speaking.
"Needn't have any fear of him," said he. "George is a gentleman. He still worships you, Lutie,—poor devil. He'll probably drink himself to death because of it, too. Of course you know that he is completely down and out? Little more than a common bum and street loafer."
"He—he doesn't like whiskey," said she, after a moment.
"One doesn't have to like it to drink it, you know."
"He could stop it if he tried."
"Like a flash. But he isn't going to try. At least, not until he feels that it's worth while."
She looked up quickly. "What do you mean by that?" Without waiting for him to answer, she went on: "How can you expect me to do anything to help him? I am sorry for him, but—but, heavens and earth, Simmy, I can't preach temperance to a man who kicked me out of his house when he was sober, can I?"
"You loved him, didn't you?"
She flushed deeply. "I—I—oh, certainly."
"Never have quite got over loving him, as a matter of fact," said he, watching her closely.
She drew a long breath. "You're right, Simmy. I've never ceased to care for him. That's what makes it so hard for me to see him going to the dogs, as you say."
"I said 'going to the devil,'" corrected Simmy resolutely.
She laid her hand upon his arm. Her face was white now and her eyes were dark with pain.
"I shiver when I think of him, Simmy, but not with dread or revulsion. I am always thinking of the days when he held me tight in those big, strong arms of his,—and that's what makes me shiver. I adored being in his arms. I shall never forget. People said that he would never amount to anything. They said that he was too strong to work and all that sort of thing. He didn't think much of himself, but I know he would have come through all right. He is the best of his breed, I can tell you that. Think how young he was when we were married! Little more than a boy. He has never had a chance to be a man. He is still a boy, puzzled and unhappy because he can't think of himself as anything but twenty,—the year when everything stopped for him. He's twenty-five now, but he doesn't know it. He is still living in his twenty-first year."
"I've never thought of it in that light," said Simmy, considerably impressed. "I say, Lutie, if you care so much for him, why not—" He stopped in some confusion. Clearly he had been on the point of trespassing on dangerous ground. He wiped his forehead.
"I can finish it for you, Simmy, by answering the question," she said, with a queer little smile. "I want to help him,—oh, you don't know how my heart aches for him!—but what can I do? I am his wife in the sight of God, but that is as far as it goes. The law says that I am a free woman and George a free man. But don't you see how it is? The law cannot say that we shall not love each other. Now can it? It can only say that we are free to love some one else if we feel so inclined without being the least bit troubled by our marriage vows. But George and I are still married to each other, and we are still thinking of our marriage vows. The simple fact that we love each other proves a whole lot, now doesn't it, Simmy? We are divorced right enough,—South Dakota says so,—but we refuse to think of ourselves as anything but husband and wife, lover and sweetheart. Down in our hearts we loved each other more on the day the divorce was granted than ever before, and we've never stopped loving. I have not spoken a word to George in nearly three years—but I know that he has loved me every minute of the time. Naturally he does not think that I love him. He thinks that I despise him. But I don't despise him, Simmy. If he had followed his teachings he would now be married to some one else—some one of his mother's choosing—and I should be loathing him instead of feeling sorry for him. That would have convinced me that he was the rotter the world said he was when he turned against me. I tell you, Simmy, it is gratifying to know that the man you love is drinking himself to death because he's true to you."
"That's an extraordinary thing to say," said Simmy, squinting. "You are happy because that poor devil is—"
"Now don't say that!" she cried. "I didn't say I was happy. I said I was gratified—because he is true to me in spite of everything. I suppose it's more than you can grasp, Simmy,—you dear old simpleton." Her eyes were shining very brightly, and her cheeks were warm and rosy. "You see, it's my husband who is being true to me. Every wife likes to have that thing proved to her."
"Quixotic," said Simmy. "He isn't your husband, my dear."
"Oh, yes, he is," said Lutie earnestly. "Just as much as he ever was."
"The law says he is not."
"What are you trying to get me to say?"
"I may as well come to the point. Would you marry him again if he were to come to you,—now?"
"Do you mean, would I live with him again?"
"You couldn't do that without marrying him, you know."
"I am already married to him in the sight of God," said she, stubbornly.
"Good Lord! Would you go back to him without a ceremony of—"
"If I made up my mind to live with him, yes."
"Oh, I see. And may I inquire just what your state of mind would be if he came to you to-morrow?"
"You have got me cornered, Simmy," she said, her lip trembling. There was a hunted look in her eyes. "I—I don't know what I should do. I want him, Simmy,—I want my man, my husband, but to be perfectly honest with you, I don't believe he has sunk low enough yet for me to claim the complete victory I desire."
"Victory?" gasped Simmy. "Do you want to pick him out of the gutter? Is that your idea of triumph over the Tresslyns? Are you—"
"When the time comes, Simmy," said she cryptically, "I will hold out my hand to him, and then we'll have a real man before you can say Jack Robinson. He will come up like a cork, and he'll be so happy that he'll stay up forever."
"Don't be too sure of that. I've seen better men than George stay down forever."
"Yes, but George doesn't want to stay down. He wants me. That's all he wants in this world."
"Do you imagine that he will come to you, crawling on his knees, to plead for forgiveness or—"
"By no means! He'd never sink so low as that. That's why I tell you that he is a man, a real man. There isn't one in a thousand who wouldn't be begging, and whining, and even threatening the woman if he were in George's position. That's why I'm so sure."
"What do you expect?"
"When his face grows a little thinner, and the Tresslyn in him is drowned, I expect to ask him to come and see me," she said slowly.
"Good Lord!" muttered Simmy.
She sprang to her feet, her face glowing. "And I don't believe I can stand seeing it grow much thinner," she cried. "He looks starved, Simmy. I can't put it off much longer. Now I must go back. Thank you for the warning. You don't understand him, but—thank you, just the same. I never miss seeing him when he thinks he is perfectly invisible. You see, Simmy, I too have eyes."
The next afternoon but one Templeton Thorpe was on the operating table. In a private sitting-room on the third floor of the great hospital, three people sat waiting for the result—two women and a man. They were the Tresslyns, mother, son and daughter. There were unopened boxes of flowers on the table in the middle of the room. The senders of these flowers were men, and their cards were inside the covers, damp with the waters of preservation. They were for Anne Thorpe, and they were from men who looked ahead even as she had looked ahead. But the roses and orchids they sent were never to be seen by Anne Thorpe. They were left in the boxes with their little white envelopes attached, for Anne was not thinking of roses as she sat there by the window, looking down into the street, waiting for the word from upstairs,—the inevitable word. Later on the free wards would be filled with the fragrance of American Beauties, and certain smug gentlemen would never be thanked. No one had sent flowers to Templeton Thorpe, the sick man.
There had been a brief conference on the day before between Anne and Braden. The latter went to her with the word that he was to operate, provided she offered no objection.
"You know what an operation will mean, Anne," he said steadily.
"The end to his agony," she remarked. Outwardly she was calm, inwardly she shivered.
"It is absurd to say that he has one chance in a million to pull through. He hasn't a single chance. I appreciate that fact and—so does he."
"You are willing to do this thing, Braden?"
"I am willing," he said. His face was like death.
"And if I should object, what then?" she asked, almost inaudibly.
"I should refuse to operate. I cannot pretend that an operation is the only means left to save his life. It is just the other way round. We are supposed to take extreme measures in extreme cases, but always with the idea of prolonging human life. In this instance, I am bound to tell you, that I don't believe there is a chance to save him. We must look the matter squarely in the face."
"You said that there was absolutely no chance." She leaned heavily against the table.
"I believe there is no chance, but I am not all-seeing, Anne. We never know,—absolutely. Miracles happen. They are not performed by man, however."
"Have you spoken to Dr. Bates?"
"Yes. He is coming to the hospital, to—to be with me."
"He will not attempt to prevent the operation?"
"No. He does not advise or sanction it, but he—understands."
"And you will be held responsible for everything?"
"I suppose so," said he bitterly.
She was silent for a long time. "I think I shall object to the operation, Braden," she said at last.
"For my sake and not for his, I take it," he said.
"I may as well give him the tablets myself, as to consent to your method of—of—" She could not finish the sentence.
"It isn't quite the same," he said. "I act with the authority of the law behind me. You would be violating the law."
"Still you would be killing a fellow creature," she protested. "I—I cannot allow you to sacrifice yourself, Braden."
"You forget that I have no false notions as to the question of right and wrong in cases of this kind. I assure you that if I undertake this operation it will be with a single purpose in mind: to save and prolong the life of my patient. The worst you can say of me is that I am convinced beforehand that I shall fail. If I were to act upon the principles I advocate, I should not feel obliged to go through the travesty of an operation. The time may come when cases of this sort will be laid before a commission, and if in their judgment it is deemed humane to do so, a drug will be administered and the horrors that are likely to attend my efforts of to-morrow will be impossible. There is no such law to sustain me now, no commission, no decision by experts and familiars to back me up, so I can only obey the commands of the patient himself,—and do the best I can for him. He insists on having the operation performed—and by me. I am one of the family. I am his only blood relative. It is meet and just, says he, that I should be the one, and not some disinterested, callous outsider. That is the way he puts it, and I have not denied him."
"It is horrible," she moaned, shuddering. "Why do you ask me to consent? Why do you put it up to me?"
"You now place me in the position of the surgeon who advises a prompt—I mean, who says that an operation is imperative."
"But that isn't the truth. You do not advise it."
He drew a long breath. "Yes, I do advise it. There is no other way. I shall try to save him. I do advise it."
She left him and went over to the fireplace, where she stood with her back toward him for many minutes, staring into the coals. He did not change his position. He did not even look at her. His eyes were fixed on the rug near the closed door. There was a warm, soft red in that rare old carpet. Finally she turned to him.
"I shall not let you take all of the responsibility, Braden," she said. "It isn't fair. I shall not oppose you. You have my consent to go on with it."
"I assume all responsibility," he said, abruptly, almost gruffly.
"You are wrong there, Braden," she said, slowly. "My husband assumes the responsibility. It is his act, not yours. I shall always regard it in that light, no matter what may happen. It is his command."
He tried to smile. "Perhaps that is the right way to look at it," he said, "but it is a poor way, after all." For a full minute they stood looking into each other's eyes. "Then I shall go ahead with the—arrangements," he said, compressing his lips.
She nodded her head.
"Before I go any farther, Anne, I want to tell you what happened this morning when his lawyer was here. I sent for him. There is a clause in my grandfather's will bequeathing to me the sum of one hundred thousand dollars. I insisted that a codicil be added to the instrument, revoking that clause. My grandfather was obstinate at first. Finally he agreed to discuss the matter privately with Judge Hollenback. A couple of hours ago Wade and Murray witnessed the codicil which deprives me of any interest in my grandfather's estate. I renounce everything. There will be no contest on my part. Not a penny is to come to me."
She stared at him. "You refuse to take what rightfully belongs to you? Now that is quixotic, Braden. You shall not—"
"The matter is closed, Anne. We need not discuss it," he said firmly. "I had to tell you, that's all. The reason should be obvious. You know, of course, that the bulk of his estate, apart from the amount to be paid to you—" She winced perceptibly—"aside from that amount is to go to various charities and institutions devoted to the betterment of the human race. I need not add that these institutions are of a scientific character. I wanted you to know beforehand that I shall profit in no way by the death of my grandfather." After a significant pause he repeated distinctly: "I shall profit in no way."
She lowered her eyes for an instant. "I think I understand, Braden," she said, looking up to meet his gaze unwaveringly. Her voice was low, even husky. She saw finality in his eyes.
"He seemed to feel that I ought to know of the clause I mention," explained Braden dully. "Perhaps he thought it would—it might be an inducement to me to—to go ahead. God! What a thought!"
"He allowed you to read it?"
"A copy, last night. The real instrument was produced to-day by Judge Hollenback at my request, and the change was made in the presence of witnesses."
"Where is it now?"
"Judge Hollenback took it away with him. That's all I know about it."
"I am sorry," she said, a queer glint in her eyes. "Sorry he took it away with him, I mean. There is nothing I can do—now."
She sent for her mother that night. The next morning Simmy Dodge came down with George Tresslyn, who steadfastly refused to enter the house but rode to the hospital with his mother and sister in Simmy's automobile. Anne did not see Braden again after that momentous interview in the library. He had effaced himself.
Now she sat in the window looking down into the street, dull and listless and filled with the dread of the future that had once looked so engaging to her. The picture that avarice and greed had painted was gone. In its place was an honest bit of colour on the canvas,—a drab colour and noteless.
Mrs. Tresslyn, unmoved and apparently disinterested, ran idly through the pages of an illustrated periodical. Her furs lay across a chair in the corner of the room. They were of chinchilla and expressed a certain arrogance that could not be detached by space from the stately figure with the lorgnon. The year had done little toward bending that proud head. The cold, classic beauty of this youngish mother of the other occupants of the room was as yet absolutely unmarred by the worries that come with disillusionment. If she felt rebellious scorn for the tall disappointment who still bore and always would bear the honoured name of Tresslyn she gave no sign: if the slightest resentment existed in her soul toward the daughter who was no longer as wax in her hands, she hid the fact securely behind a splendid mask of unconcern. As for the old man upstairs she had but a single thought: an insistent one it was, however, and based itself upon her own dread of the thing that was killing him.
George Tresslyn, white-faced and awed, sat like a graven image, looking at the floor. He was not there because he wanted to be, but because a rather praiseworthy allegiance to Anne had mastered his repugnance. Somewhere in his benumbed intelligence flickered a spark of light which revealed to him his responsibility as the head of the family. Anne was his sister. She was lovely. He would have liked to be proud of her. If it were not for the millions of that old man upstairs he could have been proud of her, and by an odd reasoning, even more ashamed of himself than he was now. He was not thinking of the Thorpe millions, however, as he sat there brooding; he was not wondering what Anne would do for him when she had her pay in hand. He was dumbly praising himself for having refused to sell his soul to Templeton Thorpe in exchange for the fifty thousand dollars with which the old man had baited him on three separate occasions, and wishing that Lutie could know. It was something that she would have to approve of in him! It was rather pitiful that he should have found a grain of comfort in the fact that he had refused to kill a fellow man!
Anne took several turns up and down the room. There was a fine line between her dark, brooding eyes, and her nostrils were distended as if breathing had become difficult for her.
"I told him once that if such a thing ever happened to me, I'd put an end to myself just as soon as I knew," she said, addressing no one, but speaking with a distinctness that was startling. "I told him that one would be justified in taking one's life under such circumstances. Why should one go on suffering—"
"What are you saying, Anne?" broke in her mother sharply. George looked up, astonishment struggling to make its way through the dull cloud on his face.
Anne stopped short. For a moment she appeared to be dazed. She went paler than before, and swayed. Her brother started up from his chair, alarmed.
"I say, Anne old girl, get hold of yourself!" he exclaimed. "None of that, you know. You mustn't go fainting or anything like that. Walk around with me for a couple of minutes. You'll be all right in—"
"Oh, I'm not going to faint," she cried, but grasped his arm just the same.
"They always walked us around on the football field when we got woozy—"
"Go out and see if you can find out anything, George," said she, pulling herself together. "Surely it must be over by this time."
"Simmy's on the lookout," said George. "He'll let us know."
"Be patient, my dear," said Mrs. Tresslyn, wiping a fine moisture from her upper lip, where it had appeared with Anne's astounding observation. "You will not have to wait much longer. Be—"
Anne faced her, an unmistakable sneer on her lips. "I'm used to waiting," she said huskily.
"She has waited a year and more," said George aggressively, glowering at his mother. It was a significant but singularly unhappy remark.
For the first time in their lives, they saw their mother in tears. It was so incomprehensible that at first both Anne and her brother laughed, not in mirth, but because they were so stupefied that they did not know what they were doing, and laughter was the simplest means of expressing an acute sense of embarrassment. Then they stood aloof and watched the amazing exposition, fascinated, unbelieving. It did not occur to either of them to go to the side of this sobbing woman whose eyes had always been dry and cold, this mother who had wiped away their tears a hundred times and more with dainty lace handkerchiefs not unlike the one she now pressed so tightly to her own wet cheeks. They could not understand this thing happening to her. They could not believe that after all their mother possessed the power to shed tears, to sob as other women do, to choke and snivel softly, to blubber inelegantly; they had always looked upon her as proof against emotion. Their mother was crying! Her back was toward them, evidence of a new weakness in her armour. It shook with the effort she made to control the cowardly spasmodic sobs. And why was she in tears? What had brought this amazing thing to pass? What right had she to cry?
They watched her stupidly as she walked away from them toward the window. They were not unfeeling; they simply did not know how to act in the face of this marvel. They looked at each other in bewilderment. What had happened? Only the moment before she had been as cold and as magnificently composed as ever she had been, and now! Now she was like other people. She had come down to the level of the utterly commonplace. She was just a plain, ordinary woman. It was unbelievable.
They did not feel sorry for her. A second time, no doubt, would find them humanly sympathetic, troubled, distressed, but this first time they could only wonder, they could only doubt their senses. It would have been most offensive in them to have let her see they noticed anything unusual in her behaviour. At least that is the way they felt about it in their failure to understand.
For five minutes Mrs. Tresslyn stood with her back to them. Gradually the illy-stifled sobs subsided and, as they still looked on curiously, the convulsive heaving of her shoulders grew less perceptible, finally ceasing altogether. Her tall figure straightened to its full, regal height; her chin went up to its normal position; her wet handkerchief was stuffed, with dignified deliberateness, into the gold mesh bag. A minute more to prove that she had completely mastered her emotions, and then she faced her children. It was as if nothing had happened. She was the calm and imperious mother they had always known. Involuntarily, Anne uttered a deep sigh of relief. George blinked his eyes and also fell to wondering if they had served him honestly, or if, on the other hand, he too had merely imagined something incredible.
They did not question her. The incident was closed. They were never to ask her why she had wept in their presence. They were never to know what had moved her to tears. Instinctively and quite naturally they shrank from the closer intimacy that such a course would involve. Their mother was herself once more. She was no longer like other women. They could not be in touch with her. And so they were never to know why she had cried. They only knew that for a brief space she had been as silly as any ordinary mortal could be, and they were rather glad to have caught her at it.
Years afterward, however, George was to say to Anne: "Queer thing, wasn't it, that time she cried? Do you remember?" And Anne was to reply: "I've never forgotten it. It was queer."
Nor did Mrs. Tresslyn offer the slightest explanation for her conduct. She did not even smile shamefacedly, as any one else certainly would have done in apology. She was, however, vaguely pleased with her children. They had behaved splendidly. They were made of the right stuff, after all! She had not been humbled.
Apathy was restored. George slumped down in his chair and set his jaws hard. Mrs. Tresslyn glanced idly through the pages of a magazine, while Anne, taking up her position once more at the window, allowed her thoughts to slip back into the inevitable groove. They were not centred upon Templeton Thorpe as an object of pity but as a subject for speculation: she was thinking of the thing that Braden was doing, and of his part in this life and death affair. She was trying to picture him up there in that glaring little room cutting the life out of a fellow creature under the very eyes of the world.
The door was opened swiftly but softly. Simmy Dodge, white as a sheet, came into the room.... Mrs. Tresslyn went over to the window, where Anne was sitting, white and dry-eyed.
"It is no more than we expected, dear," said she quietly. "He had no chance. You were prepared. It is all over. You ought to be thankful that his sufferings are over. He—"
Anne was not listening. She broke in with a question to Simmy.
"What was it that you said happened while you were in the room? Before the ether, I mean. Tell me again,—and slowly."
Simmy cleared his throat. It was very tight and dry. He was now afraid of death.
"It was awfully affecting," he said, wiping the moisture from his brow. "Awfully. That young interne fellow told me about it. Just before they gave the ether, Mr. Thorpe shook hands with Brady. He was smiling. They all heard him say 'Good-bye, my boy,—and thank you.' And Brady leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. The chap couldn't quite hear, but says he thinks he whispered, 'Good-bye, granddaddy.' Awfully affecting scene—"
"'Good-bye, granddaddy,'" Anne repeated, dully. Then she covered her eyes with her hands.
Simmy fidgeted. He wanted to help, but felt oddly that he was very much out of place. George's big hand gripped his arm. At any other time he would have winced with pain, but now he had no thought for himself. Moreover, there was something wonderfully sustaining in the powerful hand that had been laid upon his.
"She ought not to take it so hard, George," he began.
"They told you he never came out of the anaesthetic," said George, in a half-whisper. "Just died—like that?"
"That's what he said. Little chap with blond hair and nose-glasses. You remember seeing him—Yes, he told me. He was in there. Saw it all. Gosh, I don't see how they can do it. This fellow seemed to be very much upset, at that. He looked scared. I say, George, do you know what the pylorus is?"
"I wish I knew. This fellow seemed to think that Brady made some sort of a mistake. He wouldn't say much, however. Some sort of a slip, I gathered. Something to do with the pylorus, I know. It must be a vital spot."
The day after the funeral, George Tresslyn called to see his sister. He found that it required a new sort of courage on his part to enter the house, even after his hesitation about pressing the door-bell. He was not afraid of any living man, and yet he was oppressed by the uncanny fear that Templeton Thorpe was still alive and waiting somewhere in the dark old house, ready to impose further demands upon his cupidity. The young man was none too steady beforehand, and now he was actually shaking. When Murray opened the door, he was confronted by an extremely pallid visitor who shot a furtive look over his head and down the hall before inquiring whether Mrs. Thorpe was at home.
"She is, Mr. George," said Murray. "You telephoned half an hour ago, sir."
"So I did," said George nervously. He was not offended by Murray's obvious comment upon his unstable condition, for he knew—even though Murray did not—that no drop of liquor had passed his lips in four days.
"Mrs. Thorpe is expecting you."
"Is she alone, Murray?"
"Yes, sir. Would you mind stepping inside, sir? It's a raw wind that is blowing. I think I must have taken a bit of a cold yesterday during—ahem! Thank you, sir. I will tell Mrs. Thorpe that you are here." Murray was rather testy. He had been imbibing.
George shivered. "I say, Murray, would you mind giving me a drop of something to warm me up? I—"
The butler regarded him fixedly, even severely. "You have had quite enough already, sir," he said firmly, but politely.
"Oh, come now! I haven't had a drink in God knows how long. I—but never mind! If that's the way you feel about it, I withdraw my request. Keep your darned old brandy. But let me tell you one thing, Murray; I don't like your impertinence. Just remember that, will you?"
"I beg your pardon, sir," said Murray, unoffended. He was seeing with a clearer vision. "You are ill. I mistook it for—"
"No, I'm not ill. And I'll forgive you, too, Murray," he added impulsively. "I daresay you were justified. My fame has preceded me. Tell Mrs. Thorpe I'm here, will you? Run along; the decanter is quite safe."
A few minutes later he was ushered into Anne's sitting-room upstairs. He stopped short just inside the door, struck by the pallor, the haggardness of his sister's face.
"Oh, I say, Anne!" he exclaimed. "You're not taking it so hard as all this, I hope. My Lord, girlie, you look—you look—why, you can't possibly feel like this about him. What the deuce are—"
"Close the door, George," she commanded. Her voice sounded hollow, lifeless to him. She was sitting bolt upright on the huge, comfortable couch in front of the grate fire. He had dreaded seeing her in black. She had worn it the day before. He remembered that she had worn more of it than seemed necessary to him. It had made her appear clumsy and over-fed. He was immensely relieved to find that she now wore a rose-coloured pignoir, and that it was wrapped very closely about her slim, long figure, as if she were afflicted by the cold and was futilely trying to protect her shivering flesh. He shuffled across the room and sat down beside her. "I'm glad you came. It is—oh, it is horribly lonely here in this dreadful house. You—"
"Hasn't mother been down to see you?" he demanded. "She ought to be here. You need her. Confound it, Anne, what sort of a woman is—"
"Hush! She telephoned. I said that I preferred to be alone. But I'm glad you came, George." She laid her hand on his. "You are able to feel sorry for me. Mother isn't."
"You're looking awfully seedy, Anne. I still say she ought to be here to look after you. It's her place."
"I'm all right. Of course, I look like the dickens, but who wouldn't? It has been terrible. Weeks and weeks of it. You'll never know what—" She shuddered so violently that he threw his arm about her and drew her close.
"Well, it's all over now, girlie. Brace up. Sunshine from now on. It was a bad day's work when you let yourself in for it, but that's all over now."
"Yes, it's all over," she said slowly. "Everything's all over." Her wide, sombre eyes fixed their gaze upon the rippling blue flames in the grate.
"Well, smile a little. It's time some one of us Tresslyns had a chance to grin a little without bearing it."
She raised her eyes and slowly inspected this big brother of hers. Seemingly she had not taken him in as a whole up to that moment of consideration. A slight frown appeared on her brow.
"I've been hearing rather bad things about you, George," she said, after a moment. "Now that I look at you, you do look pretty shaky,—and pretty well threshed out. Is it true? Have you been as bad as they say?"
He flushed. "Has Simmy Dodge been talking?"
"Simmy is your friend, George," she said sharply.
"It's always a fellow's friends who do the most talking," said he, "and that's what hurts. You don't mind what your enemies say."
"Simmy has not mentioned your name to me in weeks."
"Well, I don't call that being friendly. He knows everything. He ought to have told you just how rotten I've been, because you could believe Simmy. You can't believe every one, Anne, but I know Simmy would give it to you straight. Yes, I've been all that could be expected. The only thing I haven't been is a liar."
"Can't you brace up, George? You are really the best of the lot, if you only knew it. You—"
"I don't drink because I like it, you know, Anne," he said earnestly.
"I see," she said, nodding her head slowly. "You drink because it's the surest way to prove to Lutie that you are still in love with her. Isn't that it?" She spoke ironically.
"When I think how much you would have liked Lutie if she'd had a chance to—"
"Don't tell it to me, George," she interrupted. "I didn't in the least care whom you married. As a matter of fact, I think you married the right girl."
"You do?" he cried eagerly.
"Yes. But she didn't marry the right man. If you had been the right man and had been taken away from her as you were, she would have died of a broken heart long before this. Logic for you, isn't it?"
"She's got too much sense to die of a broken heart. And that isn't saying she wasn't in love with me, either."
"Oh, well," she sighed, "it doesn't matter. She didn't die, she didn't go to the bad, she didn't put on a long face and weep her eyes out,—as I recall them they were exceedingly pretty eyes, which may account for her determination to spare them,—and she didn't do anything that a sensible woman would have done under the circumstances. A sensible woman would have set herself up as a martyr and bawled her eyes out. But Lutie, being an ignoramus, overlooked her opportunities, and now see where she is! I am told that she is exasperatingly virtuous, abstemious and exceedingly well- dressed, and all on an income derived from thirty thousand dollars that came out of the Tresslyn treasure chest. Almost incomprehensible, isn't it? Nothing sensible about Lutie, is there?"
"Are you trying to be sarcastic, Anne?" demanded George, contriving to sit up a little straighter on the sofa. He was not in the habit of exerting himself in these days of unregeneration. Anne was always smarter than he; he never knew just how much smarter she was but he knew when to feel apprehensive.
"You wanted to see me, George," she said abruptly. "What is it you want? Money?"
He scowled. "I might have known you would ask that question. No, I don't want money. I could have had some of old man Thorpe's money a couple of weeks ago if I'd been mean enough to take it, and I'm not mean enough to take it now—from you. I want to talk to you about Braden Thorpe."
For a moment or two Anne looked into his frowning eyes, and then she drew back into the corner of the couch, a queer shudder running through her body.
"About Braden?" she asked, striving to make her voice sound firm and unstrained.
"Where is he? Staying here in the house?"
"Of course not. I don't know where he is. He has not been near me since—since the day before—" She spoke rapidly, jerkily, and did not deem it necessary to complete the sentence.
George had the delicacy to hesitate. He even weighed, in that brief instant, the advisability of saying what he had come to say to her. Then a queer sense of duty, of brother to sister, took the place of doubt. She was his sister and she needed him now as never before, needed him now despite his self-admitted worthlessness.
"See here, Anne, I'm going to speak plainly," he blurted out, leaning forward. "You must not see Brady Thorpe again. If he comes here, you must refuse to receive him."
Her eyes were very dark and lustreless against the increased pallor of her cheeks. "He will not come here, George," she said, scarcely above a whisper. She moistened her lips. "It isn't necessary to—to warn me."
"Mind you, I don't say a word against him," he made haste to explain. "It's what people will say that troubles me. Perhaps you don't know what they are going to say, Anne, but I do."
"Oh, I know what they will say," she muttered. She looked straight into his eyes. "They will say that he killed his grandfather—purposely."
"It doesn't matter that they say he killed his grandfather, Anne," said he slowly, "so much as that he killed your husband. That's the point."
"What have you heard, George?" she asked, in dread of his reply.
"Barely enough to let me understand that where one man is talking now, a hundred will be talking next week. There was a young doctor up there in the operating room. He doesn't say it in so many words, but he suspects that it wasn't an accidental slip of the—don't look like that, Anne! Gee, you looked awfully scary just then." He wiped his brow. "I—I thought you were about to faint. I say, we'll drop the matter this instant if—"
"I'm not going to faint," she exclaimed. "You need not be afraid. What is it that this young doctor says? And how do you happen to have heard—"
"It's what he said to Simmy," interrupted George, quickly. "Simmy let it slip last night. I was in his apartment. Then I made him tell me the whole thing. He says it is certain that if this young fellow saw anything wrong, the others also did. And you know there were three pretty big surgeons there looking on. Bates and those other fellows, you remember. It—it looks bad, Anne. That's why I tell you that you must not see Brady again."
"And what has all this to do with my not seeing Braden again?" she demanded steadily.
He stared. "Why,—why, you just mustn't, that's all. Can't you understand?"
"You mean that I ought not to be put in the position of sharing the blame with him. Is that it?"
"Well, if there should be a—er—criminal investigation, you'd be a blamed sight better off if you kept out of it, my girl. And what's more to the point, you can't afford to have people say that you are determined to do the thing they believe you set out to do in the beginning,—and that is to marry Braden as soon as—"
"Stop right there, George!" she cried hotly. "Other people may say what they please, but the same privilege is not extended to you. Don't forget that you are my brother."
"I'm sorry, Anne. I didn't mean it in that way. Of course, I know that it's all over between you and Brady. Just the same, I mean what I say when I advise you to see nothing of him. I've given you the hint, that's all."
"And I am sorry I spoke as I did just now," she said listlessly. "Thanks, George. You are looking out for me, aren't you? I didn't expect it. Somehow, I've always felt that nobody cared whether I—"
"I'll look out for you as long as I'm able to stand," said he, setting his jaw. "I wish you could love me, Anne. I think we'd be pretty good pals, after all, if we got to thinking more about each other and less about ourselves. Of course, I'm a down-and-outer and don't deserve much in the way of—"
"You don't deserve sympathy," she interrupted, laying a firm hand upon his, "and I know you are not asking for it. Encouragement is what you need." Her voice shook slightly. "You want some one to love you. I understand. It's what we all want, I suppose. I'll try to be a real, true sister from now on, George. It—it will not be very hard for me to love you, I'm sure," she concluded, with a whimsical little smile that went straight to his sore, disfigured heart. A lump came into his throat and his eyes began to smart so suddenly that a mist came over them before he could blink his lids. He was very young, was George Tresslyn, despite the things that go to make men old.
"Gee!" he said, astonished by his own emotions. Then he gripped her slender, ringless hand in his huge palm,—and was further surprised to discover that she did not wince. "We're not acting like Tresslyns at all, Anne. We're acting just like regular people."
"Do you know that you are a very lucky person, George?" she said abruptly. He blinked. "You don't know it, but you are. I wish I had the same chance that you have."
"What are you talking about?" he demanded.
"I wish I had the same chance to be happy that you have."
"Happy? Good Lord, I'll never be happy without Lutie, and you know it," he groaned.
"That is just the chance you still have, Buddy. It isn't inconceivable that you may get Lutie back, while I—well, you know how it is with me. I'm done for, to put it plainly."
"Lutie wouldn't wipe her feet on me," he said, struggling between hope and conviction. "I'd let her do it like a flash if she wanted to, but—Oh, what's the use! You and I have queered ourselves forever, you with Brady and I with Lutie. It's an infernal shame you didn't take Brady when you—"
"Yes, we've queered ourselves," said she, struck by the phrase that fell from his lips. It was not Anne's habit to use slang, but somehow George's way of putting the situation into words was so aggravatingly complete that she almost resented his prior use of an expression that she had never used before in her life. It did sum up the business, neatly and compactly. Strange that she had never thought of that admirable word before! "And of the two of us, George, I am the worst offender. I went about my mistake deliberately. I suppose it is only right that I should pay the heavier price."
"If I thought there was a chance to get Lutie back, I'd—" But there he stopped as he always stopped. He had never been able to end that sentence, and he had got just that far with it a million times or more.
"Have you tried to get her back?" she demanded suddenly, a flash of interest in her eyes. It was to grow into genuine enthusiasm. The impulse at the back of her mind was to develop into an idea, later into a strong, definite purpose. It had for its foundation a hitherto unsuspected desire to do good.
"Great Scot, no!"
"Then try, George," she cried, a new thrill in her voice.
He was bewildered. "Try what?"
"I would stake my life on it, George, if you set about it in the right way you can win Lutie all over again. All you have to do is to let her see that you are a man, a real man. There's no reason in the world why she shouldn't remember what love really is, and that she once had it through you. There's a lot in love that doesn't come out in a couple of months and she has the sense to know that she was cheated out of it. If I am not greatly mistaken she is just like all other women. We don't stop loving before we get our fill of it, or until we've at least found out that it bores us to be loved by the man who starts the fire going. Now, Lutie must realise that she never got her full share. She wasn't through loving you. She had barely begun. It doesn't matter how badly a woman is treated, she goes on loving her man until some other man proves that she is wrong, and he cannot prove it to her until she has had all of the love that she can get out of the first man. That's why women stick to the men who beat them. Of course, this doesn't apply to unmoral women. You know the kind I mean. But it is true of all honest women, and Lutie appears to be more honest than we suspected. She had two or three months of you, George, and then came the crash. You can't tell me that she stopped wanting to be loved by you just as she was loving you the hardest. She may some day marry another man, but she will never forget that she had you for three months and that they were not enough."
"Great Scot!" said George once more, staring open-mouthed at his incomprehensible sister. "Are you in earnest?"
"Why, she ought to despise me."
"Quite true, she should," said Anne coolly. "The only thing that keeps her from despising you is that uncompleted honeymoon. It's like giving a starving man just half enough to eat. He is still hungry."
"Do you mean to say that you'd like to see me make it up again with Lutie? You'd like to have me marry her again?"
"Why not? I'd find some happiness in seeing you happy, I suppose. I dare say it is self interest on my part, after all. In a way, it makes for my happiness, so therein I am selfish."
"Bosh! You'll be happy, Anne, but not through me. You are the prettiest girl in New York, one of the richest, one of the smartest—"
"See here, George," she said, a hard note stealing into her voice, "you and I are pretty much alike in one respect. Surprising as it may seem, we have been able to love some one besides ourselves. And still more surprising, we appear to be constant. You are no more constant in your love for Lutie than I am in my love for the man I shall never have. My man despises me. Your woman merely pities you. You can retake what you have lost. I cannot. But why shouldn't I go on loving my man, just as you are loving your woman? Why shouldn't I?" she cried out fiercely.
He gulped. "Oh, I say, Anne, I—I didn't dream that it meant so much to you. I have always thought of you as—as—er—sort of indifferent to—But, that just shows how little a fellow knows about his sister. A sister never seems to be given the same flesh and blood feelings that other women have. I'm sorry I said what I did a little while ago. I take it back, Anne. If you've got a chance to get Brady back—"
"Stop! I spoke of your affairs, George, because they are not altogether hopeless. We cannot discuss mine."
"And as for that story, who is going to prove that Braden intentionally—" He checked the words, and switched off along another line. "Even though he did put a merciful end to Mr. Thorpe's suffering, what selfish motive can be charged to him? Not one. He doesn't get a dollar of the estate, Simmy says. He alone loved that old man. No one else in the world loved him. He did the best he could for him, and he doesn't care what any one thinks about it. I came here to warn you, to tell you to be careful, but now that I know what it means to you, I—"
She arose. Facing him, she said slowly, deliberately: "I believe that Braden tried to save his grandfather's life. He asked my consent to the operation. I gave it. When I gave it, I was morally certain that Mr. Thorpe was to die on the operating table. I wanted him to die. I wanted an end put to his suffering. But I did not want Braden to be the one. Some day I may have the courage to tell you something, George, that will shock you as nothing on earth has ever shocked you. I will tell you the real reason why Templeton Thorpe married me. I—but not now. I wish that the whole world could know that if Braden did take his own way to end the suffering of that unhappy old man, I have no word of condemnation for him. He did the humane thing."
George remained seated, watching her with perplexed, dubious eyes. It was a matter that deserved mental concentration. He could best achieve this by abstaining from physical indulgence. Here was his sister, the wife of the dead man, actually condoning an act that was almost certain to be professionally excoriated,—behind the hand, so to say,—even though there was no one to contend that a criminal responsibility should be put upon Braden Thorpe. He was, for the moment, capable of forgetting his own troubles in considering the peril that attended Anne.
"Oh, I say, Anne, you'll have to be careful what you say. It's all right to say it to me, but for heaven's sake don't go telling these things to other people." He was serious, desperately serious. "No one will understand. No one will see it as you do. There has been a lot of talk about Brady's views and all that. People are not very charitable toward him. They stick to the idea that God ought to do such jobs as Brady advocates, and I don't know but they are right. So now you just keep your mouth closed about all this. It is Braden's affair, it's his lookout, not yours. The least said, the better, take it from me. You—"
"We will talk of something else, George, if you don't mind," she said, relaxing suddenly. She sat down beside him once more, rather limply and with a deep, long-drawn sigh, as if she had spent herself in this single exposition of feeling. "Now what do you intend to do in regard to Lutie? Are you ready to straighten up and make the effort to—to be something creditable to yourself and to her?"
"Oh, I've tried to hold down a good many respectable jobs," he scoffed. "It's no good trying. I'm too busy thinking of her to be able to devote much of my remarkable intelligence to ordinary work."
"Well, you've never had me behind you till now," she said. "I am perfectly able to think for you, if you'll let me. Simmy Dodge is interested in you. He can get you a berth somewhere. It may be a humble one, but it will lead to something better. You are not a drunkard, you are not a loafer. Now, I will tell you what I intend to do. If, at the end of a year, you can show me that you—"
"Hold on! You are not thinking of offering me money, are you?" he demanded, flushing angrily.
Her eyes brightened. "You would not accept it?"
"No," he said flatly.
"You must remember one thing, George," she said, after a moment. "You cannot take Lutie back until you have paid mother in full for all that your freedom cost her. It wouldn't be fair to take both the girl and the money she received for giving you up that time. She was paid in full for returning you to the family circle. If she takes you back again, she should refund the money, even though she is accepting damaged and well- worn goods. Now, Lutie should not be called upon to make restitution. That is for you to do. I fancy it will be a long time before you can amass thirty or forty thousand dollars, so I make you this offer: the day you are good enough for Lutie to marry all over again, I will pay to mother for you the full amount that Lutie would owe her in violating the contract. You will not receive a cent of it, you see. But you understand how rotten it would be for you and Lutie to—"
"I see, I see," cried he, striking his knee with his clenched hand. "We couldn't do it, that's all. It's awfully good of you, Anne, to do this for me. I'll—I'll never forget it. And I'll pay you back somehow before we're through, see if I don't." He was already assuming that the task of winning back Lutie was joyously on the way to certain consummation.
"I am a rich woman," said Anne, compressing her lips. "I sha'n't miss a few dollars, you know. To-morrow I am to go with Mr. Hollenback to the safety vaults. A fortune will be placed in my hands. The deal will be closed."
"It's a lot of money," said George, shaking his head gloomily. It was as if he had said that it was money she shouldn't speak of with pride. "I say, Anne, do you know just how mother is fixed for money? Last winter she told me she might have to sell the house and—"
"I know," said Anne shortly. "I intend to share the spoils with her, in a way, even though she can't share the shame with me. She brought us up, George, and she made us the noble creatures that we are. We owe her something for that, eh? Oh, I am not as bitter as I appear to be, so don't look shocked. Mother has her ideals, and she is honest about them. She is a wonderful woman, a wonderful mother. She did her best for us in every way possible. I don't blame her for what has happened to me. I blame myself. She is not half as mean as I am, George, and she isn't one-tenth as weak-kneed as you. She stood by both of us, and I for one shall stand by her. So don't you worry about mother, old boy. Worry about the honest job you are expected to get—and hold."
Later on she said to him: "Some day I shall make it a point to see Lutie. I will shake hands with her. You see, George dear," she went on whimsically, "I don't in the least object to divorcees. They are not half as common as divorces. And as for your contention that if you and Lutie had a child to draw you together, I can only call your attention to the fact that there are fewer divorces among people who have no children than among those who have. The records—or at least the newspapers—prove that to be a fact. In nine-tenths of the divorce cases you read about, the custody of children is mentioned. That should prove something, eh? It ought to put at rest forever the claim that children bind mismated people together. They don't, and that is all there is about it."
George grinned in his embarrassment. "Well, I'll be off now, Anne. I'll see Simmy this afternoon, as you suggest, and—" he hesitated, the worried look coming into his eyes once more—"Oh, I say, Anne, I can't help repeating what I said about your seeing Braden. Don't—"
"Good-bye, George," she broke in abruptly, a queer smile on her lips.
Braden Thorpe realised that he would have to pay, one way or another, for what had happened in the operating room. Either his honour or his skill would be attacked for the course his knife had taken.
The day after his grandfather's death, he went to the office of Dr. Bates, the deposed family physician and adviser. He did not go in a cringing, apologetic spirit, but as one unafraid, as one who is justified within himself and fears not the report of evil. His heart was sore, for he knew he was to be misjudged. Those men who looked on while he worked so swiftly, so surely, so skilfully in that never-to-be-forgotten hour, were not to be deceived. He knew too well that he had performed with the most noteworthy skill, and, if he had any other feeling than that of grief for the death of one who had been dear to him, it was that of pride in the consciousness that he deserved the praise of these men for the manner in which he performed the most delicate of operations. He knew that they knew, quite as well as he, that but for the fatal swerving of half an inch of the instrument in his steady fingers, Templeton Thorpe would not only be alive at that moment but conceivably might be expected to survive for many days.
They had seen everything and they understood. He did not seek to conceal the truth from himself. He had heard the sharply drawn breath that was taken through the parted lips of his tense observers as that admirably handled blade slid from its true course and spoiled what might have been heralded as a marvellous feat in surgery. It was as if something had snapped in the minds of these three men who watched. They had looked, however, upon all that was before him as he worked. They had seen, as he saw, the thing that no human skill could conquer. He felt their eyes upon him as he turned the knife quickly, suddenly, surely, and then they had looked into his eyes as he raised them for a second. He had spared his grandfather another month of agony, and they had seen everything. It was not unlikely that the patient might have survived the anaesthetic, and it was equally probable that subsequent care on the part of the doctor and the nurse might have kept him alive long enough to permit his case to be recorded by virtue of his having escaped alive from the operating table, as one of those exasperatingly smug things known to the profession as a "successful operation,"—sardonic prelude to an act of God!
There seems to be no such thing as an unsuccessful operation. If God would only keep his finger out of the business, nothing could go wrong. It is always the act of God that keeps a man from enjoying the fruits of an absolutely successful operation. Up to the instant that Braden's knife took its sanguinary course, there was every indication that the operation would be successful, even though Mr. Thorpe were to breathe his last while the necessary stitches were being taken.
He had slept soundly throughout the night just past. For the first night in a week his mind and body took the rest that had been denied them for so long. The thing was behind him. It was over. He had earned his right to sleep. When he laid his head upon the pillow there was no fear of evil dreams, no qualms, no troubled conscience to baffle the demands of exhaustion. He had done no wrong. His sleep was long, sweet, refreshing. He had no fear of God in his soul that night, for he had spoken with God in the silence of the long night before and he was at peace with Him. No man could say that he had not tried to save the life of Templeton Thorpe. He had worked with all the knowledge at his command; he himself felt that he had worked as one inspired,—so much so, in fact, that he now knew that never again in all his life would he be able to surpass or even equal the effort of that unforgettable day. But he had recognised the futility of skill even as it was being exerted to its utmost accomplishments. The inevitable was bared to his intelligence. He had done his best for Templeton Thorpe; no man could have done more than that. With the eyes of other men upon him, eyes that saw all that he saw, he took it upon himself to spare his grandfather the few days that might have been added to his hell by an act less kind,—though no doubt more eminently professional.
And as he performed that final act of mercy, his mind and heart were on the handshake, and the word of farewell that his benefactor had murmured in his ear. Templeton Thorpe was at rest; he had thanked his grandson in advance.
So it was that Braden slept the night through without a tremor. But with his waking came the sense of responsibility to others. Not to the world at large, not to the wife of the dead man, but to the three sincere and honourable members of his profession, who, no doubt, found themselves in a most trying position. They were, in a way, his judges, and as such they were compelled to accept their own testimony as evidence for or against him. With him it was a matter of principle, with them a question of ethics. As men they were in all probability applauding his act, but as doctors they were bound by the first and paramount teachings of their profession to convict him of an unspeakable wrong. It was his duty to grant these men the right to speak of what they had seen.
He went first to see Dr. Bates, his oldest friend and counsellor, and the one man who could afterwards speak freely with the widow of the man who had been his lifelong patient. Going down in the elevator from his room at the hotel, Braden happened to glance at himself in the narrow mirror. He was startled into a second sharp, investigating look. Strange that he had not observed while shaving how thin his face had become. His cheeks seemed to have flattened out leanly over night; his heavy eyes looked out from shadowy recesses that he had failed to take account of before; there were deeper lines at the corners of his mouth, as if newly strengthened by some artful sculptor while he slept. He was older by years for that unguarded sleep. Time had taken him unawares; it had slyly seized the opportunity to remould his features while youth was weak from exhaustion. In a vague way he recalled a certain mysterious change in Anne Tresslyn's face. It was not age that had wrought the change in her, nor could it be age that had done the same for him.
The solution came to him suddenly, as he stepped out into the open air and saw the faces of other men. It was strength, not weakness, that had put its stamp upon his countenance, and upon Anne's; the strength that survives the constructive years, the years of development. He saw this set, firm strength in the faces of other men for the first time. They too no doubt had awakened abruptly from the dream of ambition to find themselves dominated by a purpose. That purpose was in their faces. Ambition was back of that purpose perhaps, deep in the soul of the man, but purpose had become the necessity.
Every man comes to that strange spot in the dash through life where he stops to divest himself of an ideal. He lays it down beside the road and, without noticing, picks up a resolve in its place and strides onward, scarcely conscious of the substitution. It requires strength to carry a resolve. An ideal carries itself and is no burden. So each of these men in the street,—truckman, motorman, merchant, clerk, what you will,—sets forth each day with the same old resolution at his heels; and in their set faces is the strength that comes with the transition from wonder to earnestness. Its mark was stamped upon the countenances of young and old alike. Even the beggar at the street corner below was without his ideal. Even he had a definite, determined purpose.
Then there was that subtle change in Anne. He thought of it now, most unwillingly. He did not want to think of her. He was certain that he had put her out of his thoughts. Now he realised that she had merely lain dormant in his mind while it was filled with the intensities of the past few days. She had not been crowded out, after all. The sharp recollection of the impression he had had on seeing her immediately after his arrival was proof that she was still to be reckoned with in his thoughts.
The strange, elusive maturity that had come into her young, smooth face,—that was it. Maturity without the passing of Youth; definiteness, understanding, discovery,—a grip on the realities of life, just as it was with him and all the others who were awake. A year in the life of a young thing like Anne could not have created the difference that he felt rather than saw.
Something more significant than the dimensions of a twelve-month had added its measure to Anne's outlook upon life. She had turned a corner in the lane and was facing the vast plain she would have to cross unguided. She had come to the place where she must think and act for herself,—and to that place all men and all women come abruptly, one time or another, to become units in the multitude.
We do not know when we pass that inevitable spot, nor have we the power to work backward and decide upon the exact moment when adolescence gave way to manhood. It comes and passes without our knowledge, and we are given a new vision in the twinkling of an eye, in a single beat of the heart. No man knows just when he becomes a man in his own reckoning. It is not a matter of years, nor growth, nor maturity of body and mind, but an awakening which goes unrecorded on the mind's scroll. Some men do not note the change until they are fifty, others when they are fifteen. Circumstance does the trick.
He was still thinking of Anne as he hurried up the front door-steps and rang Dr. Bates' bell. She was not the same Anne that he had known and loved, far back in the days when he was young. Could it be possible that it was only a year ago? Was Anne so close to the present as all that, and yet so indefinably remote when it came to analysing this new look in her eyes? Was it only a year ago that she was so young and so unfound?
A sudden sickness assailed him as he waited for the maid to open the door. Anne had been made a widow. He, not God, was responsible for this new phase in her life. Had he not put a dreadful charge upon her conscience? Had he not forced her to share the responsibility with him? And, while the rest of the world might forever remain in ignorance, would it ever be possible for her to hide the truth from herself?
She knew what it all meant, and she had offered to share the consequences with him, no matter what course his judgment led him to pursue. He had not considered her until this instant as a partner in the undertaking, but now he realised that she must certainly be looking upon herself as such. His heart sank. He had made a hideous mistake. He should not have gone to her. She could not justify herself by the same means that were open to him.
From her point of view, he had killed her husband, and with her consent!
He found himself treating the dead man in a curiously detached fashion, and not as his own blood-relation. Her husband, that was the long and the short of his swift reflections, not his grandfather. All her life she would remember that she had supported him in an undertaking that had to do with the certain death of her husband, and no matter how merciful, how sensible that act may have been, or how earnestly he may have tried to see his way clear to follow a course opposed to the one he had taken, the fact remained that she had acknowledged herself prepared for just what subsequently happened in the operating room.
Going back to the beginning, Templeton Thorpe's death was in her mind the day she married him. It had never been a question with her as to how he should die, but when. But this way to the desired end could never have been included in her calculations. This was not the way out.
She had been forced to take a stand with him in this unhappy business, and she would have to pay a cost that he could not share with her, for his conscience was clear. What were her thoughts to-day? With what ugly crime was she charging herself? Was she, in the secrecy of her soul, convicting herself of murder? Was that what he had given her to think about all the rest of her life?
The servant was slow in answering the bell. They always are at the homes of doctors.
"Is Dr. Bates at home?"
"Office hours from eight to nine, and four to six."
"Say that Dr. Thorpe wishes to see him."
This seemed to make a difference. "He is out, Dr. Thorpe. We expect him in any moment though. For lunch. Will you please to come in and wait?"
She felt called upon to deliver a bit of information. "He went down to see Mrs. Thorpe, sir,—your poor grandmother."
"I see," said Braden dully. It did not occur to him that enlightenment was necessary. A queer little chill ran through his veins. Was Dr. Bates down there now, telling Anne all that he knew, and was she, in the misery of remorse, making him her confessor? In the light of these disturbing thoughts, he was fast becoming blind to the real object of this, the first of the three visits he was to make.
Dr. Bates found him staring gloomily from the window when he came into the office half an hour later, and at once put the wrong though obvious construction upon his mood.
"Come, come, my boy," he said as they shook hands; "put it out of your mind. Don't let the thing weigh like this. You knew what you were about yesterday, so don't look back upon what happened with—"
Braden interrupted him, irrelevantly. "You've been down to see Mrs. Thorpe. How is she? How does she appear to be taking it?" He spoke rapidly, nervously.
"As well as could be expected," replied the older man drily. "She is glad that it's all over. So are we all, for that matter."
"Did she send for you?"
"Yes," said Dr. Bates, after an instant's hesitation. "I'll be frank with you, Braden. She wanted to know just what happened."
"And you told her?"
"I told her that you did everything that a man could do," said the other, choosing his words with care.
"In other words, you did not tell her what happened."
"I did not, my boy. There is no reason why she should know. It is better that she should never know," said Dr. Bates gravely.
"What did she say?" asked Braden sharply.
Dr. Bates suddenly was struck by the pallor in the drawn face. "See here, Braden, you must get a little rest. Take my advice and—"
"Tell me what she had to say," insisted the young man.
"She cried a little when I told her that you had done your best, and that's about all."
"Didn't she confess that she expected—that she feared I might have—"
"Confess? Why do you use that word?" demanded Dr. Bates, as the young man failed to complete his sentence. His gaze was now fixed intently on Braden's face. A suspicion was growing in his mind.
"I am terribly distressed about something, Dr. Bates," said Braden, uneasily. "I wish you would tell me everything that Anne had to say to you."
"Well, for one thing, she said that she knew you would do everything in your power to bring about a successful result. She seemed vastly relieved when I told her that you had done all that mortal man could do. I don't believe she has the faintest idea that—that an accident occurred. Now that I think of it, she did stop me when I undertook to convince her that your bark is worse than your bite, young man,—in other words, that your theories are for conversational and not practical purposes. Yes, she cut me off rather sharply. I hadn't attached any importance to her—See here, Braden," he demanded suddenly, "is there any reason why she should have cut me off like that? Had she cause to feel that you might have put into practice your—your—Come, come, you know what I mean." He was leaning forward in his chair, his hands gripping the arm-rests.
"She is more or less in sympathy with my views," said Braden warily. "Of course, you could not expect her to be in sympathy with them in this case, however." He put it out as a feeler.
"Well, I should say not!" exclaimed Dr. Bates. "It's conceivable that she may have been in some doubt, however, until I reassured her. By George, I am just beginning to see through her, Braden. She had me down there to—to set her mind at rest about—about you. 'Pon my soul, she did it neatly, too."
"And she believes—you think she believes that her mind is at rest?"
"That's an odd question. What do you mean?"
"Just that. Does she believe that you told her the truth?"
"Oh! I see. Well, a doctor has to tell a good many lies in the course of a year. He gets so that he can tell them with a straighter face than when he's telling the truth. I don't see why Mrs. Thorpe should doubt my word—my professional word—unless there is some very strong reason for doing so." He continued to eye Braden keenly. "Do you know of any reason?"
Thorpe by this time was able to collect himself. The primal instinct to unburden himself to this old, understanding friend, embraced sturdy, outspoken argument in defence of his act, but this defence did not contemplate the possible inclusion of Anne. He was now satisfied that she had not delivered herself into the confidence of Dr. Bates. She had kept her secret close. It was not for him to make revelations. The newly aroused fear that even this good old friend might attach an unholy design to their motives impelled him to resort to equivocation, if not to actual falsehood. This was a side to the matter that had not been considered by him till now. But he was now acutely aware of an ugly conviction that she had thought of it afterwards, just as he was thinking of it now, hence her failure to repeat to Dr. Bates the substance of their discussion before the operation took place.
He experienced an unaccountable, disquieting sensation of guilt, of complicity in an evil deed, of a certain slyness that urged him to hide something from this shrewd old man. To his utter amazement, he was saying to himself that he must not "squeal" on Anne, his partner! He now knew that he could never speak of what had passed between himself and Anne. Of his own part in the affair he could speak frankly with this man, and with all men, and be assured that no sinister motive would be attributed to him. He would be free from the slightest trace of suspicion so long as he stood alone in accounts of the happenings of the day before. No matter how violent the criticism or how bitter the excoriation, he would at least be credited with honest intentions. But the mere mention of Anne's name would be the signal for a cry from the housetops, and all the world would hear. And Anne's name would sound the death knell of "honest intentions."
"As I said a moment ago, Dr. Bates, Mrs. Thorpe is fully aware of my rather revolutionary views," he said, not answering the question with directness. "That was enough to cause some uneasiness on my part."
"Um! I dare say," said Dr. Bates thoughtfully. Back in his mind was the recollection of a broken engagement, or something of the sort. "I see. Naturally. I think, on the whole, my boy, she believes that I told her the truth. You needn't be uneasy on that score. I—I—for a moment I had an idea that you might have said something to her." It was almost a question.
Braden shook his head. His eyes did not flicker as he answered steadily: "Surely you cannot think that I would have so much as mentioned my views in discussing—"
"Certainly not, my boy," cried the other heartily. Braden did not fail to note the look of relief in his eye, however. "So now you are all right as far as Mrs. Thorpe is concerned. I made a point of assuring her that everything went off satisfactorily to the three of us. She need never know the truth. You needn't feel that you cannot look her in the eyes, Braden."
"'Gad, that sounds sinister," exclaimed Thorpe, staring. "That's what they say when they are talking about thieves and liars, Dr. Bates."
"I beg your pardon. I meant well, my boy, although perhaps it wasn't the nice thing to say. And now have you come to tell me that it was an accident, an unfortunate—"
"No," said Braden, straightening up. "I come to you first, Dr. Bates, because you are my oldest friend and supporter, and because you were the lifelong friend of my grandfather. I am going also to Dr. Bray and Dr. Ernest after I leave here. I do not want any one of you to feel that I expect you to shield me in this matter. You are at liberty to tell all that you know. I did what I thought was best, what my conscience ordered me to do, and I did it openly in the presence of three witnesses. There was no accident. No one may say that I bungled. No one—"
"I should say you didn't bungle," said the older man. "I never witnessed a finer—ahem! In fact, we all agree on that. My boy, you have a great future before you. You are one of the most skilful—"
"Thanks. I didn't come to hear words of praise, Dr. Bates. I came to release you from any obligation that you may—"
"Tut, tut! That's all right. We understand—perfectly. All three of us. I have talked it over with Bray and Ernest. What happened up there yesterday is as a closed book. We shall never open it. I will not go so far as to say that we support your theories, but we do applaud your method. There isn't one of us who would not have felt like doing the thing you did, but on the other hand there isn't one of us who could have done it. We would have allowed him a few more days of life. Now that it is all over, I will not say that you did wrong. I can only say that it was not right to do the thing you did. However, it is your conscience and not mine that carries the load,—if there is one. You may rest assured that not one of us will ever voluntarily describe what actually took place."
"But I do not want to feel that you regard it your duty to protect me from the consequences of a deliberate—"
"See here, my lad, do you want the world to know that you took your grandfather's life? That's what it amounts to, you know. You can't go behind the facts."
Thorpe lowered his head. "It would be ridiculous for me to say that I do not care whether the world knows the truth about it, Dr. Bates. To be quite honest, sir, I do not want the world to know. You will understand why, in this particular instance, I should dread publicity. Mr. Thorpe was my grandfather. He was my benefactor. But that isn't the point. I had no legal right to do the thing I did. I took it upon myself to take a step that is not now countenanced by the law or by our profession. I did this in the presence of witnesses. What I want to make clear to you and to the other doctors is that I should have acted differently if my patient had been any one else in the world. I loved my grandfather. He was my only friend. He expected me to do him a great service yesterday. I could not fail him, sir. When I saw that there was nothing before him but a few awful days of agony, I did what he would have blessed me for doing had he been conscious. If my patient had been any one else I should have adhered strictly to the teachings of my profession. I would not have broken the law."
"Your grandfather knew when he went up to the operating room that he was not to leave it alive. Is that the case?"
"He did not expect to leave it alive, sir," amended Braden steadily.
"You had talked it all over with him?"
"I had agreed to perform the operation, that is all, sir. He knew that his case was hopeless. That is why he insisted on having the operation performed."
"In other words, he deliberately put you in your present position? He set his mind on forcing this thing upon you? Then all I have to say for Templeton Thorpe is that he was a damned—But there, he's dead and gone and, thank God, he can't hear me. You must understand, Braden, that this statement of yours throws an entirely new light upon the case," said Dr. Bates gravely. "The fact that it was actually expected of you makes your act a—er—shall we say less inspirational? I do not believe it wise for you to make this statement to my colleagues. You are quite safe in telling me, for I understand the situation perfectly. But if you tell them that there was an agreement—even a provisional agreement—I—well, the thing will not look the same to them."
"You are right, Dr. Bates," said Braden, after a moment. "Thank you for the advice. I see what you mean. I shall not tell them all that I have told you. Still, I am determined to see them and—"
"Quite so. It is right that you should. Give them cause to respect you, my boy. They saw everything. They are sound, just men. From what they have said to me, you may rest assured that they do not condemn you any more than I do. The anaesthetician saw nothing. He was occupied. That young fellow—what's his name?—may have been more capable of observing than we'd suspect in one so tender, but I fancy he wouldn't know everything. I happen to know that he saw the knife slip. He mentioned it to Simeon Dodge."
"To Simmy Dodge!"
"Yes. Dodge came to see me last night. He told me that the boy made some queer statement to him about the pylorus, and he seemed to be troubled. I set him straight in the matter. He doesn't know any more about the pylorus than he knew before, but he does know that no surgeon on earth could have avoided the accident that befell you in the crisis. Simmy, good soul, was for going out at once and buying off the interne, but I stopped him. We will take care of the young man. He doesn't say it was intentional, and we will convince him that it wasn't. How do you stand with young George Tresslyn?"
"I don't know. He used to like me. I haven't seen—"
"It appears that Simmy first inquired of George if he knew anything about the pylorus. He is Mrs. Thorpe's brother. I should be sorry if he got it into his head that—well, that there was anything wrong, anything that might take him to her with ugly questions."
"I shall have to chance that, Dr. Bates," said Braden grimly.
"Mrs. Thorpe must never know, Braden," said the other, gripping his hands behind his back.
"If it gets out, she can't help knowing. She may suspect even now—"
"But it is not to get out. There may be rumours starting from this interne's remark and supported by your avowed doctrines, but we must combine to suppress them. The newspapers cannot print a line without our authority, and they'll never get it. They will not dare to print a rumour that cannot be substantiated. I spoke of George a moment ago for a very good reason. I am afraid of him. He has been going down hill pretty fast of late. It wouldn't surprise me to hear that he had sunk low enough to attempt blackmail."
"Good heaven! Why—why, he's not that sort—"
"Don't be too sure of him. He is almost in the gutter, they say. He's that sort, at any rate."
"I don't believe George ever did a crooked thing in his life, poor devil. He wouldn't dream of coming to me with a demand for—"
"He wouldn't come to you," said the other, sententiously. "He would not have the courage to do that. But he might go to Anne. Do you see what I mean?"
Braden shook his head. He recalled George's experiences in the sick-room and the opportunity that had been laid before him. "I see what you mean, but George—well, he's not as bad as you think, Dr. Bates."
"We'll see," said the older man briefly. "I hope he's the man you seem to think he is. I am afraid of him."
"He loves his sister, Dr. Bates."
"In that case he may not attempt to blackmail her, but it would not prevent his going to her with his story. The fact that he does love her may prove to be your greatest misfortune."
"What do you mean?"
"As I said before, Anne must never know," said Dr. Bates, laying his hand on the young man's shoulder and gripping it suddenly. "Your grandfather talked quite freely with me toward the end. No; Anne must never know."
Braden stared at the floor in utter perplexity.
Wade went through the unnecessary form of "giving notice" a day or two after his old master was laid to rest. On the day that Templeton Thorpe went to the hospital he abandoned an almost lifelong habit of cocking his head in an attitude of listening, and went about the house with the corners of his mouth drooping instead of maintaining their everlasting twist upward in the set smile of humility.
He had been there for thirty years and more, and now he was no longer needed. He would have to get out. He had saved a little money,—not much, but enough to start a small business of some sort,—and he was complaining bitterly to himself of the fate that deprived him of Mr. Thorpe's advice just when it was imperative that he should know what enterprise would be the safest for him to undertake. It nettled him to think that he had failed to take advantage of his opportunities while this shrewd, capable old man was alive and in a position to set him on the right path to prosperity. He should have had the sense to look forward to this very day.
For thirty years he had gone on believing that he knew so much more than Mr. Thorpe that Mr. Thorpe couldn't possibly get along without him, and now he was brought up sharply against the discovery that he couldn't get along without Mr. Thorpe. For thirty years he had done only the things that Mr. Thorpe wanted him to do, instructed him to do, or even drove him to do. Suddenly he found himself with absolutely nothing to do, or at any rate with no one to tell him what to do, and instead of a free and independent agent, with no one to order him about, he wasn't anything,—he wasn't anything at all. This was not what he had been looking forward to with such complacency and confidence. He was like a lost soul. No one to tell him what to do! No one to valet! No one to call him a blundering idiot! No one to despise except himself! And he had waited thirty years for the day to come when he could be his own man, with the power to tell every one to go to the devil—and to do so himself if he saw fit. He hardly recognised himself when he looked in the mirror. Was that scared, bleak, wobegone face a reflection? Was he really like that?
He was filled with a bitter rage against Mr. Thorpe. How he hated him for dying like this and leaving him with nothing to do after all these years of faithful service. And how shocked he was, and frightened, to discover himself wanting to pause outside his master's door with his head cocked to hear the voice that would never shout out to him again.
He knew to a penny just how much he had in the Savings Banks about town,—a trifle over twelve thousand dollars, the hoardings of thirty years. He had gone on being a valet all these years without a single thought of being anything else, and yet he had always looked forward to the day when he could go into some nice, genteel little business for himself,—when he could step out of service and enjoy life to the full. But how was he to go about stepping out of service and into a nice, genteel little business without Mr. Thorpe to tell him what to do? Here was he, sixty-five years old, without a purpose in life. Beginning life at sixty-five!
Of course, young Mrs. Thorpe would have no use for a valet. No doubt she would marry again,—Wade had his notions!—but he couldn't think of subjecting himself to the incompetency of a new master, even though his old place were held open for him. He would not be able to adjust himself to another master,—or to put it in his own words, it would be impossible to adjust another master to himself. Young Master Braden might give him something to do for the sake of old times, but then again Mrs. Thorpe would have to be taken into consideration. Wade hadn't the slightest doubt that she would one day "marry into the family again." As a matter of fact, he believed in his soul that there was an understanding between the young people. There were moments when he squinted his eyes and cringed a little. He would have given a great deal to be able to put certain thoughts out of his mind.